It is indeed ironical that the second biggest table tennis event in the country - the inter-institutional table tennis championship - has lost its sheen with every passing year and the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has done little to prevent the annual meet from becoming a farce.
The dwindling number of teams - only 18 teams in the men's section and 12 in the ladies - is not the only indication of the diminishing interest of those eligible to play in the 40th edition of the championship beginning at the Indoor Stadium here on Wednesday.
Looking at the lop-sided composition of the teams, with host Petroleum looking good to maintain its supremacy one more time in both sections and take the lion's share of the Rs. 2.71,500 prize-fund, there is very little motivation for most of the teams to fight for the second of the two qualifying berths for the National inter-State championship. In fact, most teams are here on a sightseeing mission.
It is not such a bad idea to let the semifinalists of the inter-Petroleum, inter-Railways and inter-bank competitions to be eligible to play in this championship. This will encourage gainful employment of more and more talented players. Those who do not represent the institutional teams in the National championship will continue to serve their respective States in the competition. It is a different matter that States have ceased to be serious contender for the National team titles.
The TTFI, which has so far shown no will to experiment with changes even for a short term, will have to take some firm steps to add some credibility to this championship. Till such time, it will be futile to see beyond Petroleum for both team titles.
As things stand, barring teams like defending champion Petroleum, runner-up Dena Bank, Air India, Airport Authority of India and former champion Railways, there is no hope for any other men's team to come even remotely close to the reaching the final.
With the cream of the Indian team forming the Petroleum line-up - Sharath Kamal, Soumyadeep Roy, Sourav Chakraborty, Zubin Kumar and A. Amalraj - the absence of Subhajit Saha won't be felt. Saha is nursing a shoulder injury for quite some time.
The only point of interest is whether Railways can reach the final and qualify for the Nationals. Placed in the three-team Group 'E', Railways is sure to top the group in the league phase but it will require some luck with the toss to escape meeting the mighty Petroleum in the semifinals.
Among the ladies, Petroleum's K. Shamini, Poulomi Ghatak, Madhurika Patkar, Mouma Das and Neha Agarwal are just too strong for the rest. The battle for the second qualifying spot will be among Railways, Dena Bank and Air India. It should not come as a surprise if Railways fails to qualify in both sections.
The team championship will be played over two days, followed by three days of matches for the open titles.